The different types of CNC lathe

A CNC lathe makes components by rotating the workpiece and removing material through a combination of turning, grooving, facing, boring and drilling. 

The size and complexity of a part, the material it is made from, and whether it is a one-off or mass-produced part, are all factors that help to determine which type of CNC lathe is right for the job.

The different types of CNC lathe

The different types of CNC lathe can be determined by the number of movement axes:

  • 2-axis – can perform outer/inner diameter machining, facing, drilling, and tapping.
  • 3-axis – adds a live tool system for milling, boring, etc.
  • 4-axis – typically adds a second tool carrier or turret.
  • 5 & 6-axis – adds an additional Y, and occasionally a B-axis, to either or both of the tool carriers. 

Specialised CNC lathes with more than 6 axes are also available with advanced features and flexibility. 

Find out more about Multi-Spindle lathe machines.

The axis of rotation of the workpiece can be configured to be either vertical or horizontal.  Vertical machines are often used for large workpieces.

For very long workpieces, a tailstock is used to support the unclamped end. Some machines are equipped with a secondary, or opposed, spindle instead of a tailstock, which facilitates machining on the cut off side of the component. This often eliminates the need for a secondary turning operation. 

Definition of CNC axes

CNC machining uses a standard naming convention for the axes of movement. This creates a common understanding when programming machines. When standing in front of a CNC lathe with the spindle on the left, the axes are:

  • X – backwards and forwards.
  • Z – left to right.
  • Y – up and down.
  • B – rotation about the Y Axis
  • C – rotation about the Z-axis.

What is a 2-axis CNC lathe?

A 2-axis CNC lathe is the most basic version of a CNC lathe. It has an X and Z axis and is used to perform basic turning of solid or hollow cylindrical parts. Depending on the age of the machine, cutting tools are held in an indexable tool post or a turret, allowing the machinist to change tools without removing them.

What is a 3-axis CNC lathe?

In addition to the X and Z axes found on a 2-axis CNC lathe, a 3-axis CNC lathe adds the C-axis with live tooling. This allows the cutting tool and workpiece to be angularly positioned so that milling, drilling, and tapping operations can be performed. It allows the machinist to add features to specific positions on the workpiece. 

View 3-axis CNC machines

What is a 4-axis CNC lathe?

A 4-axis CNC lathe adds a secondary tool carrier equipped with its own X and Z axes, often opposed to the first tool carrier. This allows for the rapid removal of material when turning in tandem.

View 4-axis CNC machines

What are 5 & 6-axis CNC lathes?

Both a 5-axis CNC lathe and a 6-axis lathe add an additional Y, and occasionally a B axis, to either one or both of the tool carriers. This allows for complex milling operations to be performed utilising driven tooling. 

View 5-axis CNC machines

Contact Kingsbury for more information today

The complexity and quantity of production items required will most likely drive the need for a specific type of CNC lathe. Kingsbury has more than 60 years of experience in supplying different types of CNC lathe and can provide excellent advice and support to assist with selecting a CNC lathe that suits your needs. Contact a Kingsbury representative today.